A Room With A View


DAY 13 – 2nd April 2011

this blog post is being written thanks to a long cable and a power socket in the bathroom of my accommodation in Istanbul. But more on that later.

I can highly recommend Heathrow Terminal 5 as a place to start a journey – so long as you don’t mind admiring the architecture rather than the service.

The building has a striking design, and as you ascend from the bus drop off zone to the departure hall you get the impression that, for once, you’re in a Proper Country. A Britain that could be Great again. A symbol of efficiency, modernity and functionality. A Can Do attitude. Then you meet the British Airways staff.

“You see, the thing is sir, our text messages aren’t working this morning, so nobody really knows what job they’ve been assigned,” says the BA woman who’s trying to be helpful, but isn’t really helping at all. This is as passengers for early flights queue up at one of the four our five desks of the 150 that are actually open. Not all of the desks are doing check in, not all are accepting luggage, some do all, others do none.

Terminal 5 will forever be remembered for its disastrous launch, when thousands of bags piled up because of teething problems. Several years on and it would seem that T5 still has a lot of growing up to do.

That said, once in the air, BA still provides a great service. The Boeing 767 is roomy and there’s an almost 50/50 split between tourists and Turks on the three and a half flight to Istanbul.

East Meets West

I’d chosen Istanbul as my destination for two reasons. Firstly, it’s a city I’ve been meaning to see for some time, and secondly, I wanted a contrast from the United States. I certainly got that.

1. It’s raining.

It hardly rained at all in the US, apart from a grotty afternoon in Nashville. Oh, and that huge thunderstorm in Memphis. Erm, and the rain in New York. OK, it rained a bit, but arriving in Istanbul and negotiating its public transport system on a Saturday afternoon is both hairy and miserable at the same time. The city’s very efficient metro and tram systems are full of local shoppers, some carrying huge plastic bags of purchases from the markets.

2.The streets are narrower.

Before arriving, I’d studied a map closely to identify the location of the Asmali Hotel. It’s tucked away in one of the streets in Sultenhamet – the old district close to the famous Blue Mosque. But I hadn’t accounted for just how small the area is. This meant a short walk from the tram stop, but I was constantly pestered by people trying to sell me an umbrella – “this is crazy rain, sir” or book me a taxi. This would have been pretty pointless too as the narrow streets were already backed up with tourist coaches and taxis.

3. Mansion means something else in Istanbul.

I finally made it to the steps of the Asmali Turkish Mansion hotel, soaked from the rain. The young man who lets me in is very polite and takes my passport, showing it to the manager – a traditional Turkish businessman, busy dealing with something else. Then the young man helpfully informs me that there is a “small problem” with my booking – but not to worry – my first night will be spent in a “nearby partner hotel”. I’m also briefly shown the room I’ll be staying in – it’s a lot more basic than what I’ve grown used to.

The Kaftan is indeed close by, but the manager takes me there in his own car through the pouring rain. A second manger shows me to the room. Now, I’ve been to Turkey before, but only to the tourist resorts of the Mediterranean. And I’m mindful of the fact here are very different. But it’s hardly a mansion…

The Kaftan Hotel - a whole new meaning to the word mansion
That said, it’s about as close to the city centre as you can get. Istanbul, of course is famous as being one end of the line for the Orient Express. And from the very room I’m sitting in, you could almost be on it. Or at least the railway line that used to carry it. What’s more, there’s a very traditional view of Turkish living…
A Room With A View - looking out from the Kaftan Hotel

At least the bathroom is (a) clean and (b) has a power socket that accepts my adapter. No doubt things look better when the rain stops. I hope that’s going to be soon.

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